Ok, ok, of course I love to procrastinate! Everybody knew that already. And, we all probably knew that I love haring off after something shiny and new instead of doing the work of finishing anything --- or boring stuff like revising a dissertation into a book manuscript.
I was prepping some random weird stuff for the Stripey class --- which, you should remember, is some random crap that is totally out of my wheelhouse and not really anything that I trained in during my graduate or undergraduate days (now now, I have done a lot to rectify the situation! That is why my first semester here sucked so much.) and was reading a little text I haven't taught before when I noticed a little reference to my dissertation topic.
[cue dramatic music and zooming-in closeup on the book!]
It's not a reference that the average person would immediately know was about my topic (let us continue to call it nose-picking, as I have always disguised it on the blog), but someone who has done an entire scholarly project and spent far more time procrastinating on the historical footnotes and background than was efficient or wise would instantly say, hmm, that's interesting. Furthermore, this text is clearly in conversation with that other, way more canonical, text I will teach in a few weeks. I wonder what access this person had to [electric nose-hair trimmers]. What is the material history for that object and my dissertation objects for this region and time period?
I went and did a Google search and a Google image search and --- whoah! How would this person have access to nose-hair trimmers? He would probably have had access to all these publications about that topic, though, and whoah, all this weird historical stuff I had no clue about, and I wonder whether anyone has written about my topic and this person, or my topic and that Canonical Writer?
So then I go over, toodley-do, tweedley-do, and poke some buttons on the MLA bibliography and discover, nope, nobody has written about my topic and these writers. Where did this person access --- well, anything? Hmm. The titles of the few articles written about him --- and there are really only a handful or so --- all seem to be "closed," close reading or rhetorical readings. There are a couple biographical things but the anthology really has covered it all in the introduction. Maybe there is no historical record about this minor historical figure, but we don't even appear to know anything about the publication and reception history of the text I'm going to be teaching.
Fascinating! I am totally intrigued --- sucked in to the detective work, even. This dude is pretty interesting and needs more articles written about him. And clearly someone needs to show the importance of nose-picking to the major movements of the Stripey period!
For a minute I am all excited ---- I will go and research and write an entire article of amazingness on Random Dude and the history of electric nose hair trimmers! It will be brilliant and groundbreaking and bring much-needed attention to Random Dude and land me an academic job so elite and fancy that it doesn't even involve teaching or research, just sitting atop a mountain and having people bow to me constantly!
Then I realize that I don't even know enough about "real" historical research to navigate all the damn different history databases to find secondary material, that I have only done limited archival research, and that I wouldn't have the first clue how to piece through letters and stuff go find reception history, and furthermore that I have read so few scholarly books on the period that pretty much anything I say in terms of background (other than on my direct dissertation topic) would be laughably wrong.
Someone needs to do it, though. Maybe once I publish my book I can start walking up to Stripey scholars and ordering them to read it and do research on this random minor historical figure.
This is where you should go and befriend a historian of the right time, place, general area and do a joint project together!
Your friendly neighborhood historian/librarian wants to pipe up and say, if you get unbearably curious, the main history secondary-source databases are America: History and Life (US/Canada) and Historical Abstracts (everyone else, back to 1450) and if you can work the MLA database, AHL & HA will look pretty much the same.
But yes, agree with Feminist Avatar, find a friendly historian colleague!
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